Sunday, October 11, 2009

America's National Parks and the Lessons of Advanced Citizenship

The dominant sub-theme of Ken Burns’ documentary series National Parks had to be the role of concerned American citizens who, either individually or collectively, took it upon themselves to take all political, economic, polemical, intellectual, and scientific measures to preserve and protect America’s natural treasures—which over the course of decades and centuries would later become America’s national treasures.

Time and again throughout Burns’ series one saw American citizens: male and female, young and old, rich and poor, eccentric and ordinary, the famous and obscure, outsiders and locals, the politically connected and the socially dispossessed rolling up their sleeves and going to work using extraordinary methods and tactics to maintain those parts of America which define the American experience so that Americans and foreign visitors can understand what makes our country so beautiful.

What Ken Burns’ documentary reaffirmed was what actor Michael Douglas called “advanced citizenship” in the movie American President; behind every great movement and action in American history were ordinary citizens using their collective talents, energies, and resources to make their country (and later on the world) a better place for themselves and their fellow citizens. Without that spirit of advanced citizenship there would have been no American Revolution; no Declaration of Independence or Constitution or Bill of Rights; no movement to grant women the right to vote and, later on, their right to an equal place in society; no movement to grant African-Americans (and other minorities) their full civil rights; no military triumphs in two world wars against militarism and fascism; no eventual triumph over communism. Even now it is advanced citizenship that is working today to keep America safe from another 9/11 type of attack.

Advanced citizenship has nothing to do with liberalism or conservatism. It is simply concerned American citizens who, when faced with a major crisis, resolving not to wring their hands and accept the supposed helplessness or powerlessness of their situation; joining forces with others who share their concerns and, most important of all,


That is what makes America beautiful.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize: The Middle Finger of Fame

The view of various political pundits that the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama should be seen as a belated slap at the policies of President George W. Bush and his supporters is an appropriate one. This is not the first time this has happened in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize nor will it likely be the last time. The two most recent examples of using the Nobel Peace Prize as a slap at a sitting or former U.S. President happened in 1987 and 1988. In 1987 the Peace Prize went to Oscar Arias Sanchez, who was then the President of Costa Rica. Sanchez was a noted opponent of the Reagan Administration’s Central American policies which called for military support of the Contra uprising against the Sandinista regime in Nicarauga. Sanchez sought a negotiated settlement which would ease tensions and reduce armed conflict between the nations involved in the region. The following year was an even more notable slap at President Reagan. In 1987 the Reagan Administration and the former Soviet Union concluded the historic INF treaty which agreed to eliminate intermediate and short-range missiles from Europe. There was a major campaign in 1988 that President Reagan be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this historic agreement. Instead the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces. This was a real backhand at Reagan because the Reagan Administration had long shown enormous disdain towards the U.N.

So what we’ve seen in recent days is nothing new.

Past is prologue.

The only question about President Obama receiving the prize is whether he can live up to what the prize entails: the furtherance of the cause of peace and the betterment of all humanity. Only time will tell.

Oh yes, another thing. The last African-American citizen to win the Nobel Peace Prize was the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964.